Since making an X with my fingernails stopped working after the second grade, I've been left trying to find other ways to deal with itchy skin from bug bites. While there are plenty of creams you can pick up at the pharmacy, there are plenty of home remedies for bug bites that banish itchiness the natural way and work just as well. "There's no need for topical steroids, calamine lotion, or Benadryl," says dermatologist Keira L. Barr, MD, founder and chief wellness officer of Resilient Health Institute. "Just look in your kitchen for some 'in a pinch' skin relief for bug bites."
However, before we dive into the tips, it's important to note that there are some bug bites that might require more serious medical attention. While bug bites are usually easily identifiable as an itchy, red bump on your skin, there are others that can be more serious. For example, tick bites—which can leave behind a tell-tale "bulls-eye" rash—can also spread Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, depending on the type of tick. Additionally, if your bug bite comes with a side of fever, swelling, or joint pain, seek medical attention immediately rather than reaching for a natural remedy.
To prevent insects from feasting on your sweet flesh in the first place, there are a few things you can do. Cover up (especially your arms and legs) when you're out walking or hiking to deter ticks, mosquitos, and fleas, and always remember to wear bug spray. Citronella candles and portable fans when you're sitting outside are always a good option, too.
That said, sometimes bugs just love to bite... so here are some reliable home remedies for bug bites that actually work, according to experts.
5 home remedies for bug bites that promise quick itch relief
1. Oatmeal bath
You know how oatmeal baths are a must when you come into contact with poison ivy? It's also a soothing—and super relaxing!—way to help with itchiness from bug bites. Especially if you have them all over your body.
"Colloidal oatmeal is simply oats that have been ground and boiled to extract their skin-healing properties," Barr says. "Oatmeal is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and lipids. It's anti-inflammatory with itch-relieving benefits, helps restore the skin barrier, moisturizes the skin, and reduces inflammation to soothe irritated and itchy skin due to any cause."
2. Witch hazel
Witch hazel is known for being able to clear up pimples like magic, and it's also great to have on hand for itchiness, according to Barr. Simply apply a small amount of witch hazel extract directly to the skin with a cotton ball, or dilute it in a carrier oil—like coconut or jojoba—to create a cream that can help with itching, irritation, and inflammation.
"Witch hazel is a type of plant native to North America, and its bark, twigs and leaves are rich in polyphenols and tannins, which are added to water or alcohol to make a concentrated product called witch hazel extract," Barr explains. "While the tannins give witch hazel its astringent properties—removing oil from the skin and killing bacteria in our pores, making it a go-to for acne treatment—the polyphenols, including proanthocyanidins, provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that soothe itching, reduce inflammation, and speed up healing."
3. Frozen popcorn kernels, peas, or ice cubes
It turns out anything cold is your BFF when it comes to getting rid of itchiness. "Ice cubes or a frozen bag of peas or popcorn kernels can be a surprisingly effective remedy for mosquito bites," Barr says. "The ice numbs the area and helps control swelling. Wrap the cubes in a towel and press against your bites for 10 minutes, or for as long as you can tolerate."
4. Organic tea bags
Those tea bags in your cupboard can be used for so much more than a warm and cozy beverage.
"Chamomile, calendula, and green tea offer anti-inflammatory benefits," Barr says. "Green tea is rich in polyphenols called catechins, which help reduce irritation, redness, and swelling. In addition to polyphenols, the natural tannins in tea act as an astringent, drawing toxins out of the skin and helping to lessen your discomfort. Just press a used tea bag against your bites until the itching subsides."
5. Baking soda
Rubbing baking soda on your skin probably isn't something you want to do before an outing, but it's the perfect home remedy for bug bites. "Add a few drops of water to some baking soda, mix it into a paste, apply it directly onto bug bites, and allow it to dry," Barr says. "The alkalinity of baking soda can help neutralize the pH of an infected area and reduce itching."
6. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is famous for its acne-fighting powers, but it can actually be super soothing for itchy bug bites, too. Simply apply a few drops (plus a carrier oil) to a cotton ball or pad, then dab on the bite.
This story was originally published on June 19, 2019. It was updated on March 2, 2021.
For even more relief, check out these essential oils that can help soothe itchiness. While you're at it, also find out which essential oils are best at relieving inflammation.
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